FINDING 'FRESHNESS' IN HONEST DISCUSSION

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Let's start with one great thing about the engaging new Tampax commercial from Foote, Cone & Belding, New York, and that is no mention whatsoever of women gynecologists.

You know what we're talking about:

Woman #1: "And it's designed by women gynecologists!"

Woman #2: "I like that."

Woman #1 (implied): "Because male gynecologists are obviously heartless imbeciles who want you to be leaky and uncomfortable, and probably couldn't find your cervix with a map."

The absence of such sexist irrelevancies is already a big plus, but that's not the only nice feature of the ad. It's 30 seconds about feminine hygiene containing not a single beaker of blue liquid. Transparent blue, of course, is the absorbency-demo color of choice, because nobody has any actual body fluids of that variety, or there certainly would have been an "X-Files" about it. Therefore, theoretically, no viewer gets grossed out imagining what the ad is really saying.

The problem is that the unlikely blueness simply gets you thinking what color bodily discharges actually are, and then the imagination kicks in, and then your mind's eye fills the beaker with [your favorite discharge here]. Which is gross anyway.

The very best thing missing from this particular tampon ad, however, is the ludicrous, infuriating coyness that has haunted the genre forever. Do knowing moms really walk down the beach with their young-adult daughters in white slacks rolled up to midcalf talking about "freedom" and "freshness"? The euphemisms are so oblique it's hard to know exactly what they're getting at. It might be a tampon ad. Or it might be for saltines.

This isn't just a question of being discreetly ungraphic; the language has historically been so elliptical as to suggest that menstruation is some dirty little secret that dare not speak its name. But, of course, there is no reason for a perfectly legal bodily function to be whispered about as if it were a felony, a sin or a moral weakness.

Bravo, then, to Tambrands for trotting out a bunch of charming, ordinary-looking women to cheerfully discuss a common question. The spot begins with a title card and voice-over saying, "Some thoughts on . . . 'Should I sleep with it . . . or not?' "

Woman #1: "This is a big question."

Woman #2: "How long can you really wear . . ."

Woman #3: ". . . a tampon?"

Woman #4: "Over-night?"

Woman #5: "All night?"

Woman #6: "The whole night?"

Woman #7: "A group of leading gynecologists agrees that you can wear a tampon overnight, for up to 8 hours."

Woman #5: "This . . . this is good news."

Woman #4 "And nothing protects better . . ."

Woman #8: ". . . than a Tampax tampon."

Woman #5: "During the day . . ."

Woman #3: ". . . or at night."

Woman #8: "They're very smart, those gynecologists."

And so on.

The breezy text gets to both efficacy and fear of toxic shock syndrome in a bravely straightforward way. There is no hint of coyness, sheepishness or shame. Assuming the company can back up the 8-hour claim, this spot should at long last destroy the tampon taboo.

No girls-only walks on the beach necessary. Freshness and freedom are to be

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